It only seems like this has been the longest five-plus weeks of our lives.
Since sportsbooks and casinos across the United States (and most of the world) were shuttered in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, bettors have been scouring the World Wide Web — with an emphasis on the “World” part — for any sort of action. The Belarus Extraleague, Russian table tennis, and eSports have all gamely tried to fill the void but received little fanfare aside from the novelty of the offerings as the wait continues for the hopeful resumption of the PGA Tour next month.
That all changes tonight, though, when the first round of the NFL Draft takes place. Originally slated to be held with all the glitz and glam typical of Las Vegas as part of the rollout of the Raiders’ first season in Sin City, the league is holding a virtual draft run out of Commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement.
That said, Goodell could’ve been floating in orbit announcing teams’ picks, and no one would care since the draft is the first sense of normalcy in the U.S. sports world. With no NCAA Tournament, no NBA and NHL playoffs, and no Major League Baseball, the NFL Draft is the first real opportunity for sportsbooks to attract new bettors and reacquaint themselves with existing ones — even if only online — since the pandemic, and there is no lack for competition.
PointsBet offering chance to recoup some losses
PointsBet Sportsbook is giving New Jersey and Indiana bettors the chance to recoup some of their losses on NFL Draft picks, offering a 20% refund up to $100 on all picks made. The offer is for both new and existing clients eligible for promos and on cash bets only.
“At PointsBet we always have our clients front of mind, and figured a 20% refund on draft net losses (up to $100) would be extremely beneficial to bettors across the spectrum,” Grant Mombach, PointsBet’s CRM manager, told Sports Handle. “Whether you place one bet or 10 bets, knowing you’ll get $100 back worst case scenario will make your Draft more enjoyable regardless of your betting outcomes!”
Patrick Eichner, PointsBet’s director of communications, added the sportsbook expects the overall handle to be consistent with a standalone Monday Night Football or Thursday Night Football offering.
Trifecta plays and 1st-round over/unders all the rage
With Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and former Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young seemingly locks to be the first two players selected, sportsbooks have turned to the horse racing model of the trifecta to add offerings. The intrigue of the NFL Draft starts with the third selection — currently held by the Detroit Lions — and while the Lions themselves have multiple holes to fill, the possibility of them trading the pick to a team desperate to fill a need at a specific position has created a market to offer options for that third player to be chosen.
FanDuel Sportsbook is also offering a trifecta pick for the first three wide receivers to be selected, a reflection of the historic quality and depth at the position. Not to be outdone, DraftKings Sportsbook — as well as other sportsbooks — have an expanded number of player draft position over/under offerings available, with an extensive selection of potential first-round picks.
Tua Tagovailoa has also become a wild card of sorts for the sportsbooks, with speculation on the former Alabama quarterback’s eventual landing spot for both pick selection and team creating a diverse market of options.
ESPN figures to be big ratings winner
Those expanded player draft position over/under bets will be another contributing factor to what should be another big ratings week for ESPN since they have the potential to retain viewers for the duration of the first round.
The draft telecast comes on the heels of the wildly successful first two episodes of “The Last Dance,” which focuses on Michael Jordan and the end of the ’90s Chicago Bulls dynasty. It averaged 6.1 million viewers Sunday night. ESPN figures to have another ratings bonanza over the next three days with its wall-to-wall draft coverage coupled with a lack of alternative sports viewing options.
While analyst Todd McShay will not participate after disclosing he is recovering from coronavirus, ESPN still has Mel Kiper Jr. and Adam Schefter for breakdowns and breaking news. ESPN’s NFL Draft coverage attracted a record 47.3 million viewers last year, and that number figures to be easily toppled given the lack of alternative sports viewing options this time around.
In addition to the Bulls documentary, ESPN had encouraging signs from its draft coverage of other sports — last week’s WNBA Draft coverage on the flagship network was up 123% compared to 2019 with 387,000 viewers.